Special Correspondent

YSR had promised action when he was Leader of the Opposition

ONGOLE: The lease of 560 acres of salt lands near Chinnaganjam to the Snow White company has become a nagging issue for the Congress Government.

The Central Government decided to give away the lands in Survey No. 608 way back in 1998 and held open auction for the purpose. The company participated in the auction and obtained the lease.

When it started to use the lands for salt production, local people opposed it on the plea that it would endanger drinking water sources in the 11 surrounding villages. They demanded that the lands be given to them for agricultural purpose. A local leader Ramana Reddy mobilised Palle Reddys, the predominant community in the area, to oppose the lease. When their agitation for cancellation of lease turned violent, the police opened fire killing two youths on the spot in 2002.

Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who was then Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, visited the village to console the kin of the victims. He promised the villagers that he would cancel the lease if the Congress was elected to power.

Meanwhile, the then district Collector implemented Section 145 preventing any activity in the disputed land. The company then went to the High Court seeking protection of its rights to enjoy the lease. The court took serious note of the prevention orders and imposed a fine of Rs. 5,000 on the Collector. It had even directed the administration to take all steps necessary to protect the rights of the company.

Following the order, the company tried to enter the fields again in 2005. The CPI then launched an agitation demanding cancellation of the lease. Party State secretary K. Narayana made a dramatic attempt to enter the lands violating prohibitory orders imposed on the directions of the High Court. He demanded that Dr. Reddy keep his promise to the people.

The government too took the issue seriously and sent a report to the Central Government seeking cancellation of lease in view of protests from local people. It offered to buy the lands from the Centre and distribute the same among landless locals.